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The 2nd Amendment: The Right To Bear ArmsThe-2nd-Amendment-The-Right-To-Bear-Arms

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: One or two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • use what they learned in the video to define gun rights and gun control;
  • review the history of gun control legislation; and
  • research arguments for gun control and gun rights and participate in a class debate.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Poster board, markers, or other materials to create a display


  1. Begin the lesson by defining "gun rights" and "gun control." What do supporters on each side of the issue believe?


    • Advocates of gun controlsupport stricter firearm laws: tougher background checks and longer waiting periods for those purchasing guns; mandatory child safety locks; a limit of one handgun purchase per month; and raising the legal age limit for ownership of guns to age 21 from the current age of 18. They believe these measures will curb the rise of gun-related violence.
    • Advocates of gun rightssay such legislation would infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. The National Rifle Association, a prominent voice in the gun debate, says firearm-control measures are unnecessary if lawmakers would enforce current laws.

    (Summaries above adapted from The Center for Responsive Politics ; see the Web site at .)

  2. Review the history of gun control legislation in the United States, from the ratification of the Second Amendment to the Constitution (to protect militias) to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. For a timeline, visit the Web site below:
    Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation
  3. Divide the class into two groups: Gun Control and Gun Rights. Explain that the class is going to participate in a debate, and the groups will defend opposing sides. To begin, each group should use the Web sites below to research and develop an argument for their assigned side of the issue.

    Gun Rights

    NRA Institute (see "Political/Legislative" section)

    Gun Control
    Brady Campaign: Facts and Issues

  4. To help students prepare, tell students the rules of the debate:


    • Each group will have five minutes to give an opening statement that should include statistics, quotes from sources, and other facts based on their research.
    • Students are strongly encouraged to prepare visual presentations, such as posters with charts and graphs, to support their argument.
    • After the opening statements, each group may ask two questions of the opposing side. (Remind students to try to anticipate questions-and their own responses-from the opposing side. Encourage students to explore Web sites for both sides of the issue.)
    • Groups will take turns asking questions; give them one minute to ask a question and two minutes to answer.


  5. Hold a class debate. Allow about 35 minutes for each side to present their argument, then ask and answer two questions. If time permits, allow students to ask and answer more questions.
  6. As a class, summarize the debate. Write two columns on the board ("Gun Control" and "Gun Rights"), and ask students to list the most compelling arguments for either side.
  7. After the debate summary, ask students to share their feelings about gun laws. Do events such as the Columbine shooting and the September 11th terrorist attacks influence their opinions about the laws? If so, explain how.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were highly engaged in class discussions; they prepared a comprehensive and thoughtful opening statement; they asked clear, challenging questions; and they gave answers based on several facts from their research.
  • Two points: Students participated in class discussions; they created a somewhat comprehensive opening statement; they asked somewhat clear, challenging questions; and they gave answers based on some facts from their research.
  • One point: Students participated minimally in class discussions; they created a simplistic opening statement; their questions were shallow or not well thought out; and their answers were unclear or simple and without basis in fact or research.

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Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act
Definition: Passed in 1994, this act imposes a five-day waiting period and background check before a licensed gun importer, manufacturer, or dealer can sell or deliver a handgun to an unlicensed individual; in 1998, a new background-check system allowed checks to be done over the phone or electronically.
Context: Also known as the Brady Bill, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was named after Jim Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, who was shot and seriously wounded during an assassination attempt on the president.

gun rights
Definition: The belief that any legislation to curtail the use and sale of firearms is an infringement on Americans' constitutional rights
Context: Some groups advocating gun rights believe that firearm-control measures are unnecessary if lawmakers would enforce current laws.

gun control
Definition: The belief that the United States needs stricter firearm laws, including tougher background checks
Context: Gun control advocates believe that tougher firearm laws will curb the rise of gun-related violence.

Second Amendment
Definition: The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Context: The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791.

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This lesson plan addresses the following standards from the National Council for the Social Studies:
V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance

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Joy Brewster, freelance education writer, editor, and consultant

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